WARD, Robert (1765-1846), of Pall Mall, Mdx. and Hyde House, Chesham, Bucks.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press

Constituency

Dates

1802 - 1806
10 Jan. 1807 - Apr. 1823

Family and Education

b. 19 Mar. 1765, 6th s. of John Ward (d. 1791), merchant, of Gibraltar and London and Rebecca nee Raphael of Spain. educ. Macfarlane’s sch. Walthamstow, Essex; ?Westminster; Christ Church, Oxf. 1783; I. Temple 1781, called 1790; continental tour. m. (1) 2 Apr. 1796, Catherine Julia (d. 28 Dec. 1821), da. of Christopher Thompson Malling of West Herrington, co. Dur., 1s. 3da. d.v.p.; (2) 16 July 1828, Jane (d. 26 Mar. 1831), da. and coh. of Rev. the Hon. George Hamilton, canon of Windsor, wid. of William Plumer* and of Richard John Lewin, cdr. RN, s.p.; (3) 14 Feb. 1833, Mary Anne, da. of Sir George Anson*, wid. of Rev. Charles Gregory Okeover of Okeover, Staffs., s.p. Took name of Plumer bef. Ward 16 July 1828. d. 13 Aug. 1846.

Offices Held

Under-sec. of state for foreign affairs Jan. 1805-Feb. 1806; ld. of admiralty Apr. 1807-June 1811; clerk of ordnance May 1811-Apr. 1823; auditor of civil list 1823-31.

Dir. Commercial Dock Co. 1812.

Sheriff, Herts. 1832-3.

Maj. Bloomsbury vols. 1803; commdt. Gilston yeomanry.

Biography

Ward, a protégé of Pitt and brother-in-law of the cabinet minister the 1st earl of Mulgrave, had attached himself like a limpet to the 1st earl of Lonsdale, who returned him again for his borough of Haslemere at the general election of 1820.1 As a junior minister he continued to be one of the dependable government phalanx in the House, where he acted as a teller on at least 15 occasions in this period. Once a supporter of Catholic relief, he paired against it, 28 Feb. 1821, 30 Apr. 1822, in deference to Lonsdale’s hostility. The radical Whig Henry Grey Bennet* attributed the former ‘very discreditable action’ to the dictation of the duke of Wellington, Ward’s chief at the ordnance since 1818.2 He voted against parliamentary reform, 9 May 1821, 20 Feb. 1823. As previously, he rarely strayed beyond his departmental brief in debate; but his annual presentation of the ordnance estimates involved him in sharp exchanges with Hume and other sticklers for economy. On 2 June 1820, for example, Ward insisted that the military establishment was ‘not greater than the circumstances of the country demanded’; and on 11 May 1821, under attack from Hume, he tried to ‘prove the entire necessity of the present extensive arrangements’. On 14 May 1821 he hit out at his tormentor, who ‘seemed to be always in a reverie about the ordnance’. He was able to detail an actual saving of £83,000, 25 Mar. 1822, though Hume was still not satisfied. Ward led the ministerial resistance to his motion for the disfranchisement of civil officers of the ordnance, 12 Apr. 1821, and replied to his condemnation of the appointment of a lieutenant-general of the ordnance in peacetime, 19 Feb. 1823. On the last occasion, a Whig observer thought that he had failed to answer Hume ‘except by rant and declamation, bold assertions, coarse abuse, and jibes and jeers’; but a friend congratulated him on ‘the complete drubbing which you so genteely gave him’.3

Extracts from Ward’s political journal during the period of Queen Caroline’s trial, 14 Oct.-22 Nov. 1820, were published by his biographer in 1850: they convey a vivid impression of ministers’ anxieties, as the affair seemed to threaten their hold on power. For his own part, Ward passed on to members of the cabinet on 15 Oct. a hint from an ‘opposition man’ that some of the queen’s ‘violent friends’ were so sure of her guilt that, while they would not swallow the bill of pains and penalties, they would settle for a lucrative divorce. In a conversation with the Whig Commons leader Tierney two days later Ward

observed, the only remedy, the only possibility of things returning to their former state, was a rebellion, and the troops ... quelling it with a high hand. He replied, that was the disease. I said, neither he nor I should live to see society where it had been and ought to be; to which he assented. I have no doubt he is sincere; yet he and his party are the real authors of the spirit we deplore.

Conscious of the weakness of government, especially in the Commons, where they ‘seemed like victims’, and believing that it had come to a question of whether the country ‘would ... be governed by any administration’, he encouraged Wellington to consider stepping in to form a stronger ministry. The duke looked askance at the idea. Ward thought that ministers were entitled to disregard the popular support for the queen, as expressed through the ‘ridiculous’ medium of petitions ‘carried by force’:

The House would be much more formidable, indeed, after all, the only thing that was formidable, but with a verdict of guilty, which the second reading must amount to, I did not fear it. I thought the country gentlemen would stand by us ... The Radicals might mouth, and the Whigs might support them, but these latter never gained one inch of ground, and we should triumph as we had done before.

Once the second reading of the bill had been narrowly carried in the Lords, which constituted ‘a complete justification of ministers’, he hoped it would never be sent to the Commons. He duly applauded its abandonment, though he had some doubts about Lord Liverpool’s speech on the occasion, which he felt amounted to ‘a confession that radicalism had triumphed by the threats and clamour out of doors’. In a broader view, he deplored the Whigs’ ‘admirable policy of questioning motives, and attributing everything in office, or friends to office, to corruption, by which they have nearly destroyed the very roots of society’. Sickened by ‘the scoundrel spirit of the times’, he reflected:

There was a time when I should have felt such things acutely; but with many feelings as warm, nay as romantic as ever, to political feeling I am almost dead, and the nil admirari is to me, not only the most just, but the only maxim by which I wish to govern myself. There is not a leader in the state capable of swaying parties with proper authority, nor do I think (such is the change on the side of personal vanity throughout all ranks) Mr. Pitt himself could lead as he did. Everyone is for himself - of course everyone differs. Authority is gone.4

Although Ward’s wife was in poor health from late 1819, she rallied ‘so often’ that he ‘blindly and presumptuously refused to believe in her danger’ until her death two years later. He was ‘bent before the blow’, and was also afraid that the government reshuffle of January 1822 might ‘take me from the ordnance’; but Wellington shielded him for the moment. Seven months later his ‘sunk heart’ seemed to have ‘lost all interest with the rest of the world’: it was as though ‘everything’ had ‘receded from me in one great loss’. Yet he appears to have recovered some of his spirits by September 1822, when he informed Lonsdale of Canning’s impending appointment as foreign secretary.5 The death of his wife was more than an emotional blow, for since his resignation as under-secretary in 1806 she had enjoyed a pension of £1,000 a year, which was contingent on his not resuming office at a salary of £2,000 or more. Although he secured a grant of a pension of £1,000 for himself in respect of his services as clerk of the ordnance, 14 May 1822, he was still currently out of pocket, as his official remuneration had recently been reduced by government economies to about £700.6 Faced with the ‘ridiculousness’ of ‘continuing to serve ... in an office of the labour and responsibility of mine, for less than I can receive by law, by going out of it’, he set about trying to negotiate a better deal for himself. By late January 1823 it was thought probable, as Lonsdale’s son Lord Lowther* reported, that Ward was to become a commissioner of taxes, which would vacate his seat. Lowther prompted his father to select a replacement Member, but at the same time advised discretion, as it was said that Ward was ‘not well pleased at quitting Parliament’, which he considered ‘a great wound to his dignity’: nothing was yet settled, and careless talk would only give him an excuse to ‘say, as he once before hinted, that we wanted to get rid of him’. On 29 Jan. 1823, according to Lowther, Ward wrote a long letter to Lushington, the new patronage secretary, ‘of which we could not make out purport or meaning’, beyond the fact that he was ‘in great ill humour and much dissatisfied’.7 Three weeks later Ward wrote to Lonsdale to complain of ‘slight, abandonment and total injustice on the part of the government’, who, for all their honeyed words, had made no real effort to treat him fairly:

I gave up £2,000 a year at the bar, on the invitation of Mr. Pitt, and the promise to be taken care of in proportion to what I gave up. Hence the late king’s order recognizes the principle in terms, when it says that in order to compensate to me or my family the sacrifice I made, my wife should have £1,000 a year, so long as I had not two under the government. My place is reduced to less than one ... Yet though the defalcation of the peer gave them the fairest opening to raise the salary, though the committee of finance would have willingly raised it to £2,000, they neither have the courage to raise this miserably paid place, nor to renew the pension according to the intentions of the king; nor to make the least attempt at such a arrangement as to any other parliamentary office as might, by being tenable with my parliamentary pension, equalize my government income with what was promised and intended ... Thus ... I am fairly forced out of Parliament by the cowardice of those who say ... they want to keep me there.

He was further miffed at being pressed to retain his seat until he had dealt with the ordnance estimates, though he could hardly refuse. If he hoped that Lonsdale would intervene with ministers on his behalf he was disappointed, for his patron’s reply ‘pointed all to retirement’.8

This was far from the end of the affair. On 28 Feb. 1823 Lowther wrote that Ward had now opted to become auditor of the civil list by which, ‘united to his pension’, he would enjoy £2,000 a year ‘with easy duty’, though he would still have to vacate his seat. Within a fortnight he changed his mind again and reclaimed the tax office place, but it had been given to another man.9 In the House, 17 Mar., Ward replied to Creevey’s attack on the use of the Leeward Islands duties as a pension fund and handled the ordnance estimates. Next day Arbuthnot, Lushington’s predecessor as patronage secretary and now commissioner of woods and forests, asked Lowther whether, ‘as Ward was going out of Parliament’, Lonsdale would be willing to replace him as Member for Haslemere with the Scottish solicitor-general Wedderburn on a short-term basis. Lowther, who naturally assumed that Arbuthnot was speaking of behalf of government, told him that Lonsdale was already engaged to return his kinsman George Lowther Thompson.*10 Unaware of this episode, Ward made a last, desperate bid to cling on to his seat. On 20 Mar. he called on Lowther, who related their conversation to his father:

He began by asking me if you had fixed upon anyone to succeed him at Haslemere; I told him you had ... [and] that I believed you had made the proposition and that it was accepted. He then told me that he was in negotiation with some member of one of the boards to exchange his auditorship for a place tenable with Parliament, and wished to know if he could retain his seat if this arrangement was made; that he had never announced his intention of accepting the tax office or the auditorship if he could have got a place to improve his income and at the same time sit in Parliament, and that all his negotiations were coupled with this reservation. I observed upon this that it was perfectly understood he was going; that he himself had consulted me which of the two offices that were offered he should accept; and that even the government were so impressed at his having accepted the auditorship that they had made an application to bring in a friend of theirs to succeed him at Haslemere. To this he had nothing to say, but shifted his tack to inquire if you were anxious to have his seat. I repeated again that as it was understood he was retiring from Parliament you had provided yourself with a person to supply the vacancy ... He will write you a letter today setting forth his hopes of making an arrangement with someone to change offices ... but I am sure that Lord Liverpool has not yet been consulted, and from what I have heard I do not think that he is likely to agree to such a proposition. Now it comes to the point I perceive Ward is catching at every straw to save himself from retiring from Parliament. He will very likely tell you that the government are very anxious that he should remain in the House of Commons; from what I heard today I should be inclined to draw quite another inference.11

Ward duly wrote to Lonsdale, claiming that it had all along been understood that his preferred option was an office tenable with a seat, advising him that he had a good chance of effecting an exchange and asking permission to pursue this negotiation with a view to continuing to sit for Haslemere. The exchange which he had in mind was with William Henry Fremantle*, secretary to the board of control, whose patron the duke of Buckingham and chief Charles Williams Wynn* approved the swap, though it had not yet been submitted to Liverpool. Ward also told Lonsdale that ‘circumstances might arise to make me content to remain even at the ordnance itself’, namely a ‘difficulty’ about finding a successor and the prospect of war. In his answer, which Lowther thought ‘very proper and conclusive’, Lonsdale evidently made it clear to Ward that there was to be no reneging on the arrangement with Thompson, mentioned the supposed approach from government as further proof of the understanding that he had decided to retire and rapped his knuckles for his shuffling conduct.12 Ward, as Lowther reported, was mortified, and on 24 Mar., in the Speaker’s room, he delivered

a most intemperate oration of the ill usage he had experienced from the treasury in having informed you that he was about to accept the auditorship ... He added that it was now proved that he had enemies and that they wished to get rid of him and that no one had ever been so ill treated. He was in much too great a tantrum and so wrongheaded that he could not be reasoned with. I told him that the fact of his having accepted the auditorship was too notorious to be denied ... Ward keeps writing long letters to Lushington, which he puts in the fire and does not answer ... Ward has plagued the government so much about his concerns that if this place had not been given him he would have got nothing at all. It seems singular that he should appear in ill humour when he has got a permanent situation of £1,400 a year, added to which he can hold half his pension ... His great wrath is against the government [for] having proposed someone to succeed him; he does not know who it was that made the proposition and who the person was that they wished to come in, and upon this point he had better remain in ignorance ... Ward is searching ... with such watchfulness for a grievance that it is quite dangerous to talk to him without a witness. Lushington and Arbuthnot will have no further communication with him.13

Ward tried to explain himself to Lonsdale by letter later that day, but he evidently received a dusty answer. He may well have had some cause to complain of Arbuthnot’s characteristically officious interference, which turned out to have been on his own initiative. He soon identified the culprit and on 26 Mar. wrote at length to Lonsdale, mixing sycophancy with defiance, to allege that Arbuthnot’s ‘manoeuvres’ had cheated him out of his seat. As parting shots, he threw out his suspicion (which was unfounded) that the person on whose behalf Arbuthnot had approached the Lowthers was Lushington’s son, and rather unconvincingly cited his own personal feelings as the true reason for his reluctance to surrender his seat: ‘I, too, have a son, who when his father is forgotten is not likely to be remembered’.14 Lonsdale’s reply seems to have been a frosty one, and Ward had to retract his slur on Lushington, though he stuck by his complaint against Arbuthnot. He indignantly denied Lonsdale’s assertions that he must all along have been aware that Wellington ‘might wish to have a person of his own nomination in my place’ and that Liverpool did not think much of his abilities.15 The Lowthers indulged Ward’s wish to ‘cling to the ship as long as possible’ by deferring the vacating of his seat until after Easter, but they were anxious to wash their hands of him, especially as he continued to broadcast his grievances. Lowther commented, 1 Apr.:

No person could possibly have been treated with more kindness, consideration and indulgence ... He had the offer of two offices; he made a selection, and now coming with an afterthought and saying it was always with an understanding that it was provided he could not get a place tenable with Parliament is quite idle and I think quibbling ... Even if his own statements or allusions were admitted I should think he was much to blame for not being more explicit ... about the plans that were working in his own mind ... Your delicacy and kindness to him ... seem to have produced these unreasonable demands ... Ward appears to me to be exerting his ingenuity ... to endeavour to catch at an expression or a word to found a grievance upon ... Taking all the circumstances into consideration, I think you are very lucky to have got rid of him.

‘Any stranger to the transaction’, Lowther observed next day, ‘would imagine he was turned out without a sixpence’.16 Eighteen months later Ward was asked to us his pen against those elements in the government who were hostile to Canning. To Buckingham, whose confidant he had now become, he reported:

I found I was supposed to be neither more nor less than out of humour, and ill used both at the ordnance and the treasury, and not ill disposed to show my feelings upon it. I put the matter to rest in an instant by a very simple explanation; for I found to my amusement, though also to my vexation, that I was supposed to have quitted the ordnance in a quarrel with the duke [of Wellington], and had left Parliament in disgust. I felt bound therefore to set things right, and say that I had parted from the duke the best friends possible, and still admired him, as I still loved Lord Lonsdale ... That it was very true I felt I had been tricked out of the seat, and betrayed in my best interests, either from negligence or design, by others; but this would not make me quarrel with old friends, whom, though I felt little obligation to, I could not oppose with pleasure or credit in the way hinted at.17

In his retirement Ward became a successful novelist. His Tremaine, or, the Man of Refinement, published anonymously in 1825, received considerable acclaim, as did its successor De Vere, or, the Man of Independence (1827), one of whose principal characters was a composite of Bolingbroke, Canning and Pitt. Benjamin Disraeli† admired it, and Ward’s friend Peter George Patmore put him on a par with Scott; but both works, together with De Clifford, or, the Constant Man (1841), have long been buried in deserved obscurity.18 Reconciled to being on the fringe of affairs and delighted with his literary success, Ward wrote to a friend on Canning’s accession to power in April 1827:

You looked for mine or my son’s name, you say, in the late changes; mine you will see no more. All my feelings forbid it. I have now lost every man to whom I looked up, or could ever follow, and I would not lead, even if I could. In short I am grown old, and am content to be so, knowing what I know, and feeling what I feel. The place I have is just the very best I could have with these feelings, keeping me just enough in the political world to say I am not out of it, and giving me, therefore, precisely the quantum of public interest to make me the more relish my dear private life. Hence nothing Mr. Canning could have given me could have equalled what I have. Had he doubled my public income (which he could not), I must have spent the difference, exchanged a certainty for an uncertainty, and quiet for turmoil, by no means compensated by returning to Parliament and being Right Honourable. This I fairly told a noble friend of mine, who came twice to me, observing, that he believed they wanted me in more active office ... But though I had lost all ambition as to myself, I had occasion to observe its workings in others, with no very raised opinions of its effects on human nature ... In short, it is no affectation to say, that I have realized what Tremaine only dreamed, and view the world at a distance.19

(No evidence has been found to suggest that Ward was even considered for office, let alone made an offer.)

Marriage to a widow in 1828 brought him an estate on the borders of Hertfordshire and Essex and an extra name; but a succession of calamities awaited him. In August 1830 the two eldest of his three daughters died on consecutive days. Soon afterwards, Charles Russell* met him in the street: ‘He is quite a cripple from rheumatic gout, very deaf, and instead of his former animated manner, or of any appearance of melancholy, he spoke with a silly vacant simper’.20 Seven months later, to Ward’s ‘infinite astonishment’, his wife died. In 1832 rumours circulated about ‘the secret history of Gilston’, where a ‘series of rows ... beyond conception’ were supposed to have occurred. ‘The Wards’, reported Disraeli, ‘say that Madame killed the girls, and the recrimination now is, that the young Wards killed her’.21 It was later alleged that both Ward and his son, having been ‘always over head and ears in debt’, were ‘quite ruined’ and that Mrs. Plumer Ward’s ‘property turned out only £400 per annum’. Certainly, although she left Ward real estate in six counties, her personalty was sworn under a paltry £100.22 Ward’s finances were not improved by the loss of his office in 1831, when the Grey ministry incorporated it into the treasury and so deprived him of £900 a year. (He lost the salary of £1,400, but became entitled to the other half of his pension.) Ward considered himself to be the victim of political spite, and he was outraged when Lord Althorp, the chancellor of the exchequer, described the auditorship in the House, 4 Feb. 1831, as ‘a sinecure’, the duties of which were mostly performed by deputy. He got Goulburn and General Phipps to clear his name, 28 Mar.: they forced Althorp to admit that he had ‘performed all the duties required of him, himself’.23 Another source of mortification to Ward, who condemned the authors of the reform bills as ‘robbers’, was his son’s espousal of radical views.24 (After a brief diplomatic career Henry George Ward (1797-1860), who was at dagger’s drawn with his stepmother, sat for St. Albans, 1832-7, and Sheffield, 1837-49. He supported the ballot, triennial parliaments and household suffrage; and his motion of 1834 for the appropriation of Irish church revenues precipitated the collapse of the Grey ministry and became thereafter an annual parliamentary ritual.)

The illness of his surviving daughter in 1832 drove Ward to Brighton, where he met his third wife. She brought some domestic happiness to his last years, despite the death of his daughter in 1835. After a period of residence abroad he returned to England in 1837 and the following year, abandoning Gilston to his son, who was ‘very welcome to all the cockneys and radicals of Herts’, he went to live at his stepson’s home in Staffordshire. In addition to his third novel, he published Illustrations of Human Life (1837), an Historical Essay on the Revolution of 1688 (1838) and Pictures of the World at Home and Abroad (1839).25 In 1841 he applied unsuccessfully to Peel for a baronetcy, both as a mark of his status as representative of the Plumer family, who had held one in the seventeenth century, and as compensation for his victimization by the Whigs.26 The next year he struck Crabb Robinson as ‘a very lively and pleasant man’, notwithstanding his debilitating deafness.27 Ward wrote from Hastings in January 1845:

I am in the greatest danger of going off in a fit of indolence; for I have no other complaint. Lounging, in both body and mind, gets more and more hold of me, and this soft climate makes it worse ... My life ... passes in a happy, if indolent reverie, which I take to be the true paradise of fools; and while that is the case, I don’t want to be among the wise.28

Later that year he suffered ‘severe attacks of painful indigestion’. Early in 1846, riddled with ‘perpetual and painful illness’, he moved into his father-in-law’s official residence at Chelsea hospital.29 After a brief rally he died there in August 1846, a few weeks after his son’s appointment as secretary to the admiralty in the Russell ministry.30 Ward had settled his real estate, including Gilston, on Henry George in 1831. By his will, dated 23 Feb. 1844, he left his wife £1,000 in addition to her jointure. Among the possessions of which he disposed was a ‘letter attempted to be written by Mr. Pitt when wandering in mind on his death bed’.31 An obituarist credited him with ‘fine intelligence and boundless information’; and Patmore, his uncritical admirer, wrote of ‘that strong and clear good sense which was the marking and guiding feature of Mr. Plumer Ward’s singularly varied intellect’.32 Four years after his death Croker, reviewing his biography, recalled him as an ‘amiable and clever man’.33

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: David R. Fisher

Notes

  • 1. Lonsdale mss, Ward to Lonsdale, 6 Mar. 1820.
  • 2. HLRO, Hist. Coll. 379, Grey Bennet diary, 28-29.
  • 3. Add. 51667, Bedford to Lady Holland [23 Feb. 1823]; Phipps, Plumer Ward Mems. ii. 104.
  • 4. Phipps, ii. 58-101.
  • 5. Lonsdale mss, Ward to Lonsdale, 6, 23 Mar. 1820, 22 Jan., 10 July, 10 Sept. 1822.
  • 6. Geo. III Corresp. iv. 3173; Black Bk. (1820), 86; Extraordinary Red Bk. (1821), 237; PP (1821), xv. 309; (1822), xix. 91; (1823), xiii. 133; (1830-1), vi. 574.
  • 7. Lonsdale mss, Lowther to Lonsdale, 24, 25, 29 Jan. 1823.
  • 8. Ibid. Ward to Lonsdale, 17 Feb., 21 Mar. 1823.
  • 9. Ibid. Lowther to Lonsdale, 28 Feb., 12 Mar 1823.
  • 10. Ibid. Lowther to Lonsdale, 18, 19 Mar. 1823.
  • 11. Ibid. Lowther to Lonsdale, 21 Mar. 1823.
  • 12. Ibid. Ward to Lonsdale, 21 Mar., Lowther to same, 21 Mar. 1823.
  • 13. Ibid. Lowther to Lonsdale, 24 Mar. 1823.
  • 14. Ibid. Ward to Lonsdale, 24, 26 Mar., Lowther to same, 24, 25 Mar.; Bucks. RO, Fremantle mss, Buckingham to Fremantle, 27 Mar. 1823.
  • 15. Lonsdale mss, Ward to Lonsdale, 1 Apr. 1823.
  • 16. Ibid. Lowther to Lonsdale, 27 Mar., 1, 2 Apr., Long to same, 1 Apr. 1823.
  • 17. Buckingham, Mems. Geo. IV, ii. 129.
  • 18. Phipps, ii. 106-13; 133, 156; P. G. Patmore, My Friends and Acquaintance, i. 240, 262; Disraeli Letters, ii. 24, 62; Oxford DNB.
  • 19. Phipps, ii. 171-2.
  • 20. Gent. Mag. (1830), ii. 189; Bodl. MS. Eng. lett. c. 160, ff. 192-3.
  • 21. Phipps, ii. 172-3; Patmore, i. 247; Disraeli Letters, ii. 146.
  • 22. Disraeli Letters, iv. 260X; PROB 11/1784/248; IR26/1275/148.
  • 23. Phipps, ii. 173-84.
  • 24. Hatfield House mss 2M/Gen., Ward to Salisbury, 13 Jan. 1832; Add. 40494, ff. 177, 179, 181.
  • 25. Phipps, ii. 186-222; Patmore, ii. 61, 72, 74, 96-97.
  • 26. Add. 40494, ff. 177, 179, 181.
  • 27. Crabb Robinson Diary, ii. 231.
  • 28. Phipps, ii. 224.